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Softball pitchers don protective masks

04/22/2014, 4:07pm PDT
By Terry Monahan, Special to the U-T

Increasing number of players opt to take preventive measures


Bonita Vista sophomore Izzy Ortiz has been wearing a protective mask while pitching since age 11.

At first, the mask looks out of place.

Not the catcher’s mask. That’s as much a part of the game as bats and gloves.

Masks on pitchers, and even infielders, are growing at an increasing rate in softball.

Instead of maybe seeing one player per season sporting a mask, it seems as if more and more players are donning the added layer of protection.

From around the country horror stories pop up every year after pitchers are struck down by line drives to the face. Some school districts, along with a number of schools with players severely injured by line drives, are considering making masks mandatory.

The wire masks are far less expensive than bats or even a trip to the emergency room. The cost is between $35-$65, and the masks are durable.

“I would love to see masks on pitchers and corner infielders mandatory,” Bonita Vista sophomore pitcher Izzy Ortiz said. “Honestly, the mask has been a great thing.”

Ortiz, who says she’s been called “Bane” from the Batman movies because of her mask, has been wearing a mask since she began pitching at age 11.

When she plays first base, though, she leaves the mask on the bench.
When she does wear the mask in the circle, it has become just another part of her uniform.

Otay Ranch freshman third baseman Hazel Diaz saw a teammate take a line drive to the face while playing in the field. She figured since the pitcher is starting her windup 43 feet from the plate and Diaz was not much farther back at the hot corner, a mask was in her immediate future.

She’s been wearing her mask for about six months and has gotten beyond that awkward break-in stage.

“I’ve seen a few third basemen get hit,” Diaz said. “And I’ve been hit on the chin by a liner. It left me a little dingy, but there was no real injury.”

Diaz said she sees more players sporting mouthpieces, not masks.

Unlike Diaz, Westview sophomore pitcher Megan Krause has five years invested in her mask.

Krause figured it was only a matter of time before a liner struck her in the face after she kept getting hit in the neck and stomach.

“I’ve had a lot of big bruises along the way,” Krause said. “I’ve been hit once in the mask. Off the chin, but the mask saved me.

“There have been a few times I thought about not wearing the mask, but I remember the girl years ago who took a shot off her nose. Broke it. A ton of blood everywhere.

“That mask is as natural as packing my glove for a game.”

Baseball has been much slower to embrace the concept of masks for pitchers or corner infielders. Some of the resistance has to do with players being macho and not being afraid of getting hurt.

Finding the right design to keep a mask firmly in place as a baseball pitcher throws a 90 mph pitch, quite a bit faster than throwing a softball, also has been a daunting task.

Simply developing a protective cap that wouldn’t even shield a pitcher’s face from a line drive has struggled to gain acceptance.

In softball, especially for pitchers, safety is the most important aspect of the dilemma and drives the discussion among players, even at a young age.
Prevention of a first injury is the overwhelming thought.

“Even corner infielders are at risk on a play where they’re charging for a bunt and the batter swings away,” Krause said. “That shot comes at you quickly.

“I’ve had a few shots go past my head so fast I can’t see them, just hear that whistling sound as it passes by.

“The mask makes me feel a little bit like I’m invincible out there.”

The reward of wearing a mask, it seems, far outweighs the slight cost, especially since it doesn’t include any trips to the emergency room.

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